It’s huge, it’s chaotic, but it’s worth it once you get to the centre. As you snake in from the north through a coiled maze of motorway flyovers and giant metro construction works, it seems totally overwhelming. But somehow, even if you get lost, all roads naturally lead to the centre, and Salvador starts to make sense. Finally we start to experience the state of Bahia that everyone’s been telling us about.
Immensely proud of their long and turbulent history, Baianos, as they’re called, will tell you that while they saw the rest of Brazil buying their independence, they fought to kick the Portuguese out. The rest of Brazil remembers September 7th, 1822, as their day of freedom, but in Bahia, it’s July 2nd, 1823, during the Brazilian war of independence.
Luckily for us, Sara, a childhood friend of Marina’s sister, offered us a room at the last minute. We stayed right in the centre, just down the road from the “Campo Grande” where the independence monument stands. We couldn’t have been in a better spot to see the city.
After getting some administrative work finished, we spent an evening walking through one of the city’s fanciest neighbourhoods, along a high coast I can only compare to somewhere near Monaco, or Nice. Towering expensive apartment blocks mixed with old colonial churches and mansions. We visited the Museum of Art Bahia, very charming building and full of history. The exhibition “Beyond what you see, whom the intangible” by local artist Flávio Magalhaes caught our attention on the way. This brought us down to the old lighthouse, now the naval museum, that marks the entrance to the Bay of All Saints, that gives the state of Bahia it’s name.
And after a drink, the best food in Bahia, Acarajé. Deep fried bean bread, with spicy fillings, it’s really, really satisfying. But don’t eat more than one, it has been known to make people run to the loo… (Prices range from R$2 – R$7 / €0.5 – €2 for one). There are stalls selling it everywhere, usually staffed by a very large, brightly dressed black lady.
Our second and last day, we spent in the historic centre, Pelourinho. It’s full of old colonial buildings, many of which were controversially restored recently, restaurants, street music, and plenty of guys hawking bracelets and all kinds of trinkets. It’s a tourist trap, but it’s certainly worth a visit. The parts worth visiting here are split into the Low City (Cidade Baixa) and Upper City (Cidade Alta), so we got the lift between the two. It was Brazil’s first public elevator, still a dominant landmark, and still only 15 centavos, or about €0.04 for a one way trip.
The low city’s main attraction is the Model Market. Nowadays it sells handicrafts, souvenirs and novelties. Upstairs, there’s a giant restaurant and a very nice view of the harbour. As we had already eaten lunch and it seemed to us a little expensive, we sat on the balcony for a drink and to enjoy the beautiful view.
You could spend an afternoon just watching the boats bobbing about the harbour. Back in the 19th century, it was the site of the city’s slave market. The name “Pelhourinho” of the area up above, is from the pillories, where public punishments were carried out, back in those times.
Salvador today has a reputation as a great place to get pickpocketed, or worse if you’re not careful. Pelhourinho itself is crawling with police at night, so you’ll feel safe enough, but make sure you have a taxi home, if you must go elsewhere. Don’t walk it after dark. Really.
After the excitement of watching a samba-reggae band strut their stuff on one of the cobblestone streets, we got safely back home to Sara’s apartment. She and her flatmate are violinists with the Bahia University orchestra, so we were greeted on our return by some more beautiful music. Thanks Sara and Caio!